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Inmate labor saves jail plan
• Sheriff's office staff and county crews will handle the training center phase after bids came in too high for the project.

Bob Sapp

Wright Bagby Jr.

Floyd County is taking over construction of the training center building at the jail after a call for bids put the price at nearly twice the budgeted amount.

County Manager Jamie McCord said the sheriff's office and maintenance department would manage the project and use inmate labor at a cost of about $550,000. Leaving the building in the jail medical expansion contract with Carroll Daniel Construction would cost about $1.2 million.

"We're hoping it won't happen with everything ... but there's more work than there are people out there building buildings," McCord said.

The training center is the first phase of a $7.4 million project that will add a medical and mental health wing with 60 beds to the jail at 2526 New Calhoun Highway.

The facility currently has just five medical cells. One is padded, for inmates in a mental health or substance abuse crisis, and one has a separate ventilation system to house inmates with contagious diseases.

The two-phase project is funded through allocations in the 2013 and 2019 special purpose, local option sales tax packages.

Funding for the new sheriff's office training center — which must be moved from the jail to make room for the medical wing expansion — was budgeted at $700,000. McCord said there were at least three bids for each work category but, ultimately, it was too much money to divert from the second, main phase.

"We'll be OK on this phase," said Jail Administrator Bob Sapp, who helped craft the solution and will be heavily involved in managing it. "It's a simple project with few site challenges."

The training center is slated for a section of greenspace and parking lot across from the main entrance to the jail. Plans are to order a freestanding steel building shell and have county crews and inmates work on items such as the foundation, plumbing, electricity, doors and windows and drywall.

The County Commission unanimously signed off on the change, although Commissioner Wright Bagby Jr. expressed some concern.

"Yes, but the problem is if our crews are doing that, something else isn't getting done," Bagby said.

Sapp and his staff also are going to look at how inmate labor can cut costs on the next phase, which will take place inside the existing jail footprint — including the space where the training center and clinic are currently housed.

Security is a major consideration during construction at the jail, which averages about 600 inmates a day.

The next step will be to gut the area that will become the mental health section and refit it as a temporary clinic.

Then crews will get to work on the medical section. They'll complete the mental health side after the clinic is moved into its permanent space.

Still no cause found for fire
Investigators believe it started in middle of historic home

Ira Levy

Fire investigators still have not been able to pinpoint a cause for the blaze which gutted the historic Towers Place at 313 E. Fourth Ave. early Saturday morning. Investigator Mary Catherine Chewning did say she is still a little concerned that what remains of the front wall, badly bowed out toward the street, may collapse if high winds continue to prevail.

She said the insurance companies she is working with want the building left as it is until the investigation into the cause is completed.

"They've got to do what they've got to do and I understand that," said home owner Ira Levy. He said that Brown & Brown was the lead insurance agency.

Chewning said she and Deputy Chief Dean Oswalt tend to believe that the fire started somewhere in the middle of the home, but could not say if that was in the basement or first floor of the home.

"It's going to be a lengthy investigation due to the amount of damage to the structure," Chewning said.

At this point, Chewning said she does not believe that arson was involved.

"I have over 600 pictures plus evidence from the house that I have to analyze," Chewning said. The investigator also said she still has a lot of surveillance video from several of the neighbors homes that she has to review in a bid to find any kind of clue that might help determine exactly what happened.

The home, thought to have been built in the 1870s, is owned by Ira and Libby Levy who have been renovating it for the past two years. Chewning said her information is that Levy had a potential buyer and there had been discussions about the equipment that was going to be put in the kitchen.

Levy said he was negotiating final details of what he was to do to complete renovation to the house prior to the sale versus what the buyer wanted to do later on their own.

"Nothing had been installed, which was kind of a help for me because I was able to rule out kitchen appliances as an ignition source," Chewning said. "The location of the kitchen in the house did not match the fire patterns."

Levy said it is still way too early to know whether or not he and wife Libby will attempt a rebuild. Local architect Bill Jones did have a set of plans for the building from his work with a previous owner who had planned to demolish the original dilapidated structure and then rebuild a look-alike home on the site.

"We took those plans and then Libby did an overlay making changes for what she wanted to do to keep the house in as much of the original historic condition as we could," Levy said. He estimated the original structure had been added on to at least four different times through the years.

Downtown parking changes still months away
• The DDA wants to keep a closer eye on the condition of buildings.

Becky Smyth

Amanda Carter

The Downtown Rome Development Authority hopes to start easing in the first phase of changes to its downtown parking plan sometime early in the Spring. Parking Services Manager Becky Smyth told members of the authority board of directors Thursday that new license plate reader technology and kiosks for the parking decks are on order and should arrive within a couple of months.

Once the LPR technology is in place, parking enforcement downtown will include a change in the hours of enforcement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Currently, the two-hour parking limit is enforced through 6 p.m.

Smyth said the LPR technology will help generate a lot of data that will be critical to how the city moves forward with future changes to the parking plan, which could include paid parking for premium spaces along Broad Street, but open up the decks to free parking.

When the kiosks are installed in the decks, the first hour will be free with a $1 per hour charge thereafter, up to a maximum of $8 per day.

"I think what we have right now is a good plan in place," said Commissioner Evie McNiece, who serves as vice-chair of the authority.

The DDA board also expressed some concern over rehabilitation projects downtown that seem to be going on forever, specifically mentioning the work at 407-409 Broad St., a building owned by Rome businessman Nathan Roberts. DDA Director Amanda Carter said she periodically does walk-arounds with building inspection office staff to check on certain buildings. City Manager Sammy Rich said perhaps something should be written into the Historic Preservation ordinance with respect to timing of work that is authorized by the HPC.

The DDA approved facade grants of $2,000 for the Makervillage building, 252 N. Fifth Ave., and $1,500 for Lisa Landry at Living & Giving, 401 Broad St. Both projects involve new awnings while the Makervillage building will also get a paint job. A separate facade grant for the painting of the entire building at 401 Broad was approved last fall, however work has been held up by the weather.

Megan Watters, who chairs the design committee which reviews the facade grant applications, also told the board that her panel is close to developing a new logo for downtown Rome which will be one step closer to the development of new downtown signage at several of the key gateways to the downtown district. Watters also said her committee is looking to completely revamp the downtown information boards to include information that would be more informative to pedestrian visitors of the downtown business district.

A new website for downtown Rome is also close to going live, according to DDA Director Carter. She also reminded the board that the latest interpretation of a new downtown smoking ordinance will go before the city Public Safety committee on Jan. 15 at 2 p.m.

Following the trail of campaign spending
• Elected officials and candidates file their financial disclosure reports.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome

Evan Ross

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome

John Burnette II

Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, is headed into a new two-year term in the Georgia General Assembly with more than $160,000 in his campaign fund.

That's after a contested election in a four-county district he won with 75.78 percent of the vote. The District 52 senate seat covers all of Floyd and parts of Chattooga, Gordon and Bartow counties.

Elected officials and candidates had until this week to file their yearend financial disclosures without a penalty. The period covers spending and donations between Oct. 26 and Dec. 31 of 2018.

Hufstetler's Democratic opponent Evan Ross, a political newcomer, raised and spent just over $4,800 during the course of the campaign and closed out his account.

State lawmakers can't accept contributions while the legislature is in session. The 40-day convocation starts Monday.

Major donors to Hufstetler in the waning months of the year included Independent Doctors of Georgia, $2,000; Capital Health Management for Quality Housing and Home Depot Inc., $1,500 each; and, at $1,000 each, Civil Justice PAC, Dish Network, Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, Georgia Amusement & Music Operators, International Paper and McGuire Woods Federal PAC in Richmond, Virginia.

He took in a total of $14,300 during the reporting period and spent $12,084. His expenses included a $3,900 donation to Republican Brad Raffensperger, who won the secretary of state seat in a December runoff. Republican Lt. Gov.-elect Geoff Duncan got $3,000.

Floyd County's House delegates maintained five-figure accounts.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, reported a balance of $59,740 after taking in $10,850 and spending $8,651 during the year-end period.

Dempsey beat her Democratic challenger, John Burnette II, with 66.54 percent of the vote in state House District 13 covering Rome and part of unincorporated Floyd County.

Burnette, another political newcomer, reported raising and spending $2,928 before terminating his account.

Dempsey got a $1,500 boost from the campaign committee of former Rep. John Meadows of Calhoun, who died in November. A runoff for his seat is scheduled for Feb. 5.

Other major donors include Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas, and Comcast Corp., at $1,000 each. Contributions of $500 each came from 10 different entities, ranging from Cancer Treatment Centers of America Global Inc. to Georgia Association of Realtors.

In addition to election expenses, Dempsey spent $608 to attend the House budget retreat and $2,100 a month for an apartment she keeps near the State Capitol.

Without interstate construction, it's a nearly three-hour round trip between Rome and Atlanta.

Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, reported $31,187 cash on hand after taking in $3,550 and spending $1,736 during the period. Lumsden was unopposed for re-election to the District 12 seat that covers parts of Floyd and Chattooga counties.

Among the six entities contributing $500 each were Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Allstate Insurance and the Civil Justice PAC for the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association.

Lumsden's spending included a $500 donation to District 14 candidate Ken Coomer, who fell to Mitchell Scoggins, and $450 for an apartment in Atlanta he shares with another lawmaker.


Today's artwork is by Kaylee Powell, a fourth-grader at Alto Park Elementary School.